HARTWELL W. RAGSDALE III • 19 5 3- 2 018
THE FACE OF SAN DIEGO’S ANDERSON-RAGSDALE MORTUARY
BY JOHN WILKENS
As the fourth generation of a prominent San Diego mortuary family, Skipper Ragsdale was around death all the time. Ask him how he was feeling, and he always had the same answer.
“I’m blessed,” he said.
Even after he suffered a stroke three years ago, there was no change in that answer, and it was his cheery outlook and ever-present smile that family and friends are remembering in the wake of Mr.
Ragsdale’s death Jan. 25 from complications of pneumonia. He was 64.
“We always say this when somebody dies, that he was a wonderful person,” said Theodis “Ted” Mims, a retired San Diego police sergeant and longtime friend. “It sounds like a cliche. But he was a wonderful, caring person. If you were in his company, you would feel really comfortable.”
Hartwell W. Ragsdale III was born March 19, 19 53 , in Phoenix. He was 2 when his father and mother moved to San Diego and bought Anderson Mortuary, which had closed. They renamed it Anderson- Ragsdale Mortuary and it’s been in operation ever since.
The boy dubbed Skipper at an early age by his grandmother grew up in a home located above the mortuary, which at the time was at 26th Street and Imperial Avenue. (It moved in 1977 to its present spot on Federal Boulevard.) He went to St. Rita Catholic School and University of San Diego High School before transferring to Crawford, where he was better able to pursue his interest in music. A drummer and background singer, he played in a number of bands, including Power, a funk outfit that also featured sax player Hollis Gentry and bassist Nathan East. It toured with Barry White, among others.
The family business— his great-grandfather started a mortuary in 1889 in what is now Oklahoma — eventually called to him and he graduated from Cypress College’s Department of Mortuary Science. After his father passed away in 2004, he became the face of Anderson-Ragsdale.
“What he liked best about it was just being able to help people in their time of need,” said his son, Derick Ragsdale, now the fifth generation of mortuary workers. Mr. Ragsdale was active in various local, state and national industry associations, including stints as president of the San Diego Funeral Directors Association — the first African-American to hold the post— and the California Funeral Directors Association.
“If you go anywhere in the country and mention a mortuary in San Diego, the first name that comes up is Ragsdale,” said Mims. Like his father before him, Mr. Ragsdale also believed in community service and was on boards for, among others, House of Metamorphosis, Neighborhood House Association, Big Sister League, the San Diego Symphony, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Diamond Business Improvement District.
His hobbies included fishing. He organized an annual trip to Sitka, Alaska, where about a dozen people would fish for salmon and halibut. Inevitably, a week or so after everyone came home, a package would arrive in the mail at each of their houses. Inside would be photos of them hauling in fish.
Mr. Ragsdale had taken the pictures. “You wouldn’t even know he was doing it,” Mims said. “That’s just the way he was, always looking out for someone else.”
In addition to his son, Mr. Ragsdale is survived by his wife, Valerie. They were married in 1999.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Hartwell and Hazel Ragsdale; his sister, Rosalind Renee; and his daughter, Jocelyn Nicole Ragsdale.
Visitation will be today from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Anderson-Ragsdale Mortuary, 5050 Federal Blvd., followed by a memorial service Friday at 11 a.m. at the Jacobs Center, 404 Euclid Ave.